Johnson on Kennard: ‘The way he shoots the basketball is special’

Stanley Johnson is expected to help fill the void left by the trade of Marcus Morris in Stan Van Gundy’s rotation.
Brian Sevald (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

ORLANDO – Tuesday wasn’t Stanley Johnson’s first go-around with Luke Kennard. It wasn’t even the first time they were teammates. That happened three years ago, when Johnson and Kennard were gold medal-winning teammates for USA Basketball in the FIBA U-18 world championship.

So there’s no better authority on Kennard’s NBA potential and readiness to help the Pistons than Johnson, who though two years ahead of Kennard down the NBA path is only a few weeks older than him. Both celebrated their 21st birthdays over the past month.

“I think he’s a guy we can really, really use, the way we shot the ball last year,” Johnson said of Kennard after the Pistons opened practice for Summer League on Tuesday morning. “We can use any shooting, but the way he shoots the basketball is special, man. It’s really, really special. There’s not a lot of guys in the NBA now who shoot the ball as well as he does. You can see when it leaves his hand, he’s so confident in it.”

Johnson won’t play in Summer League games, but he’ll go through the seven or eight practices the Pistons hold before Saturday’s opener. And that means he expects to go head to head against Kennard over the course of the week.

“I’m here to guard the best players. I’m here to play against the best players,” Johnson said. “I think it’ll be fun. Hopefully we get a chance to play together a lot because I know we’ll play together (during NBA seasons) a lot, but I’ll be guarding him a little bit and try to give him a look. He’s going to have a hell of a week this week playing against a lot of good players. I’m here to help him as much as I can.”

Johnson scoffs at the predraft chatter that Kennard would struggle to translate his scoring ability from Duke to the NBA due to limited athleticism. He saw Kennard thrive in international competition and make the Team USA roster while battling against players who were all highly recruited and, in many cases, have already begun NBA careers.

When the United States team went 5-0 in pool play during their run to the gold medal, Johnson and Kennard were the leading scorers on a roster than also included Justise Winslow, Myles Turner and Jaylen Brown.

“If you can play with those guys, I think we’re all in the NBA now. He got shots off fine against us. I think he’ll figure it out in the NBA. Plus, he shoots from way out here,” Johnson said, seated to the side of the court about 10 feet beyond the 3-point arc. “Steph Curry, he’s not the most athletic person in the world, but he shoots from way out here. I think he can be one of those players in the NBA.

“He shoots the p--- out of it, man. I don’t care what anybody says about that. And in the NBA, if you can shoot the basketball the way he can shoot it, he can find minutes on the court. Just has to have the confidence and have the knowledge of the game to know when and when not to shoot. But while I’m here and he’s on my team, I’m telling him to shoot every time he touches, because I really believe in his shooting ability and I think everybody in the gym does, as well.”

Kennard and last year’s No. 1 pick, Henry Ellenson, figure to get the lion’s share of shot attempts for the Summer League team. Johnson is looking forward to sharing the court with them for the rest of the week in practices.

“Henry’s been good,” Johnson said. “Stan’s a real defensive coach and as a young guy it’s hard to come in and learn that. Most of his challenge is going to be on the defensive end. Offensively, he’s a monster, as well. I’m excited to play with these two guys. That’s going to be fun to get a chance to all play together and see what it looks like. I know I can handle and pass and they can shoot, so it’ll be fun.”